Never in my life have I experienced the emotions I felt over the past two days. Within my five minutes I would go from incredibly nervous to insanely happy and back down to absolutely anxious, almost as if I was on a cycle. All 92 of us only found out where we were going to be living at around 11:30pm the night before we were supposed to leave. You could literally smell the anticipation in the room. Our group ended up getting split up not just in the Imereti region, but all over Georgia. While about half of us were placed in Imereti (including me, Melissa and Emily) the other half were spread in the regions of Ajara, Tbilisi, Samegrelo, and various other places. About twenty people were even placed just five kilometers away from the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It seemed like all 92 of us were in a state of shock. We didn’t have internet the last few days in the dorms so no one even got the chance to google where they were going to and find out how far away they’d be from their friends.
So here we all were, with a location dictating where we would spend the next year of our lives, with a family we knew nothing about. (Normally in the past, TLG would write a small description of everyone’s family and hand it out when they got their placement, but we were such a big group that they just didn’t have time). About here is when everyone went, “This is crazy! Why did we do this”!
The morning after was an entirely different range of emotions. Our group was leaving in sections depending on location, so it was hard to start saying goodbye to friends that we felt like we’d known for years. Granted, we all plan on visiting each other, but one person leaving signified that soon we too would be leaving and setting out on a solo adventure.
We met our host families in small sessions. My session consisted of about 25 TLG participants. We were placed in a room where all the TLG participants sat on one side of the room, and all our host families sat on the other side. It literally felt like we were dogs in a pound and the Georgian families were looking and pointing at which one of us they’d want to adopt. We were laughing at nothing simply to come off as funny, and sitting up straight to demonstrate we had manners. We too, were looking around the room picking out who we would want to be our family. After our Director, Nino, talked about the program to all our families, she finally began to read off the names of who we would spend the next year of our life with.
I remember when my name was called I was so excited that instead of walking to the podium-area to meet my family, I walked down the aisle to greet them. Two women greeted me, both giving me a kiss. I used the little Georgian I could muster to say “sasiamovnoa” (nice to meet you) and felt a huge relief. Both my deda (mom) and my school director came to greet me. My deda told me that she had one daughter and a husband and that our house was two floors. The whole time she was talking to me she kept holding my hand and stroking my face. They both kept saying, “kai gogo” (very good girl) to each other so I felt relieved they liked me. One Georgian woman even walked up to my deda, and said what sounded like it would translate to, “you got a good one”! (I was then also happy to not be the reject puppy at the pound). Then after a few goodbyes to friends, I was in the car, on my way to my new home. Just like that.
The first thing my deda did was to take me to supra at a restaurant. Here we were met by my sister Nini, my mama (dad), and two family friends. Nini was shy at first but within a few minutes she was chatty and showing me what taste good mixed with what and finding me the best pieces of meat to eat. (I told my deda that I don’t really like meat, but Nini was so excited to have me try her favorite dish, I just couldn’t say no). My mama (dad) was the tamada (host leader) and he led about eight toasts. The toasting was done exactly like studied it would be. The men stood for every toast while the women sat, and after the tamada made his little speech, the other men added on, and then we drank. The third gamarjos (toast) was in my honor, the fourth was in honor of Georgian-American relations, and the fifth was to ending terrorist attacks around the world. I’m not quite sure what the other toasts were for, but I toasted to them anyway while eating delicious Georgian dishes.
Nini is fourteen and speaks English fairly well. When we talk to each other we use a lot of pointing and sound effects, but somehow it works. Both my host parents speak some Russian, though they don’t like to use it, so they first speak to me in Georgian and then when I look at them blankly they often switch to Russian. I got really lucky that my entire family is very warm. Nini always wants to hold my hand, my deda (mom) constantly just wants to hug me and my mama (dad) always gives me a kiss on my forehead whenever he sees me.
Plus, in true Georgian hosting style they’ve given me a beautiful room. I should clarify though, not only have they given me a bedroom, but I also have my own terrace and my own parlor room. They kept asking me if I liked it and I was in shock. Queen Elizabeth would be pleased with these arrangements. I mean, my own parlor room? I don’t even know what a parlor room is for. My deda is a dentist who has her own practice attached to the house and my mama is a pediatrician and also owns an apothecary and another market in town.
Nini has been showing me around the whole neighborhood. All the neighbors have been coming to the house to meet me, and she keeps telling me that everyone likes me and wants me to stay forever. Nini was also taking me around town to meet her friends, and at each house I visited, her friends parents insisted I eat something and drink some homemade wine. To refuse entirely would have been seen as an insult so I started asking for mere droplets of food and sips of wine just because I was so full.
Conveniently, my family lives just a ten minute walk from the center of town. Melissa and Emily also live in Samtredia and we live so close to each other that I’ve already bumped into both of them while walking around town. All three of us feel much more comfortable knowing we are literally just a fifteen minute walk away from each other. There are two big parks in town, a bunch of different restaurants, cafes, dress shops and markets and even a beauty salon and two micro-financing organizations. Cows and stray dogs wander the streets and everybody seems to know everybody. It’s a really cute, quaint town, much bigger than I expected even though Nini keeps apologizing for it being so little and having “no American maghazia” (shops).
So far everyone I’ve met has been lovely. Most of Nini’s friends don’t speak any English or Russian but again a phrase like “Me momtsons Pink Floyd, ACDC da Beatles, shen?” implies that someone asked me what music I like. All Nini’s friends like to dance and that’s pretty universal too. Her friends especially enjoyed when I danced my way into an open pothole in the street. (I blame Shakira and her infectious dance music). At the end of the night when I said goodbye to her friends, a few yelled to me, “Bye Michelle! I love you!” and Nini told me that everyone liked me very much. So it looks like so far I’m off to a great start in my new home! I feel so lucky that everyone is warm and curious about getting to know me. Gamarjos to a wonderful year!